HVAC Expert Mark Cambria ’98 Solves Engineering Puzzles Daily

2/22/2012

Mark Cambria ’98 (B.E. in Mechanical Engineering) is a good man to know. His engineering design expertise, creative thinking and problem-solving skills literally print money.

As manager of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) group at M/E Engineering, an engineering services firm headquartered in upstate New York, Cambria led the HVAC systems portion of a large-scale project to redesign a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant into a paper factory that generates the paper that U.S. currency is printed on.

“The building was designed for a completely different purpose, so there was a lot of hammering square pegs into round holes,” Cambria said. “It was a huge, huge challenge, but at the same token a huge opportunity to get the creative juices flowing.”

The paper plant is just one of many construction and renovation projects Cambria has been involved with during his three years at M/E Engineering – the firm where he says he wants to spend the remainder of his career – but it is the one he is most proud of. He said it best demonstrates the innovative thinking required to succeed as a consulting engineer.

“Imagine being asked to solve a jigsaw puzzle, but not knowing if all of the pieces are in the box, or if some of them actually belong to a different puzzle,” he said. “The most interesting projects are the ones where you’re not even sure that there is any possible solution, but regardless you have to find one.”

Cambria originally wanted to be an automotive engineer. Filled with curiosity as a youth growing up in Staten Island, N.Y., he was fascinated by his remote control car, always trying to understand what he could alter or tweak to make it run faster or perform better. But none of the adults in his family had attended college, so there wasn’t anyone to explain the physics or mathematics behind how the toy car worked.

Stevens was the place that could answer Cambria’s questions. A Mechanical Engineering major, he looked forward to getting his hands dirty and building working machines from scratch. Although he enjoyed the design labs that were part of the core engineering curriculum, his most powerful experiences came as a member of the Cooperative Education program, where he worked for a civil construction firm, a pharmaceutical company, and finally a design shop that made devices for physically-challenged clients. His most memorable project – especially given his love of cars – was designing a prototype for a customized, automated steering column for drivers with limited upper mobility. He said that when he completed that project, he knew once and for all that he had chosen the right career for himself. 

“Co-op was a fantastic experience and I would recommend it to anyone coming into Stevens,” Cambria said. “It’s a great opportunity to get a taste of where you are going five years down the road, plus it’s a break from a rigors of academia and it can help pay for school. My internships were very good practical applications for what I was learning in the classroom.”

After graduation from Stevens in 1998, Cambria was hired by a Stevens graduate to work as a mechanical engineer for AKF Engineers, a consulting engineering firm in Manhattan. For seven years, he worked on a wide variety of building types in and out of New York City, but ultimately left to pursue an engineering career in a rising nanotechnology hub near Albany, N.Y.

The father of two has been at M/E Engineering since 2009, leading HVAC planning, design and quality assurance for cutting-edge construction projects, like the paper factory renovation.

Cambria learned valuable on-the-job skills from his active extracurricular life at Stevens. A member of the varsity lacrosse team – and a former high school football player – he said he applies the team mentality ingrained in him through athletics every day in his career.

“When I’m talking about design with my staff, I’m constantly using examples from zone coverage – teamwork, communication, finding motivation by more than just the bottom line,” he said. “I think if you can carry the basic premises of team sports over into business leadership and management you are going to have a very successful career.”

Cambria was also a brother of Sigma Phi Epsilon, and participating in Greek life taught him how to manage many facets of an organization with people of all different abilities and interests.

“It was a good microcosm for running a company,” he said.

Cambria has remained engaged with Stevens, most recently through his company’s sponsorship role in the award-winning U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011 project, in which a team of students built a new model for green-energy, affordable housing.

The involvement of M/E Engineering in the Solar Decathlon came about when Cambria and his colleagues reached out to university administrators about working together on some campus construction projects. When they learned about the Solar Decathlon, they immediately saw how similar the design experience the students would be getting was to the work consulting engineers do every day – building complex and energy-efficient HVAC systems, meeting code requirements, coordinating with architects, managing budgets, etc.

Cambria said the project provided the students with invaluable experience. He even gave some of them his business card in case they were interested in applying for jobs at M/E Engineering.

“Stevens graduates – through the design-heavy curriculum, opportunities like co-op, and projects like the Solar Decathlon – have a rare understanding of what it is really like to work as a consulting engineer,” he said.